Dr. Peter Watts

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

Many a sad Sarnian chronicle can be told of the Straits of St. Clair, of crosses and double crosses in the urban boundary waters of Port Huron and Sarnia. 

Amongst Canadian protectors of the largest lake in the world (Huron/Michigan is, hydrologically speaking, a single lake), the St. Clair River is seen as a vast drainage ditch scoured and widened to dump precious Canadian fossil water into America.  On maps it flows south and thus represents what it also is, a drain ripped wide at the bottom of the bathtub.  Unfathomable corruption—literally, as disputes continue about its size and destructive impact.  Transverse to this runs the highway from Toronto to Michigan, and through Sarnia many a truckload billed as recycling is sent to be tossed into Michigan landfills.  Corruption north to south by tanker, east to west by truck.

In the crosshairs of such justice today, the writer Dr. Peter Watts is to be sentenced in a Port Huron court on the basis of an earlier conviction for assuming the customary fetal position with insufficient alacrity during a routine border-crossing beating.

Here at Sea Walk (the ungooglable) we do not recognize international boundaries and generally feel little compulsion to pay attention to particular nodes in it.  Buffalo or Port Huron—it’s all one to us.  But for my part I can hardly fail to notice that Port Huron—oh the levels of irony!—is the site of the Port Huron Statement of 1962, the document that articulated the resistance of a generation of students. 

When I still possessed such a document, my green card falsely claimed that I entered the U.S. at Port Huron, when in fact I had been living my most contented months in a womb with indirect views of Mexico, Texas, and Colorado, and I have always felt that the words “Port Huron” nicely sum up the random way in which politicians and other terroirists drew an arbitrary line through my territory.  Even as a child I would get into scraps with boundarymen at so-called borders.

Watts is one of our best writers (I speak here as a Terran citizen).  A Hugo award nominee, Watts’ work pulls the genre of hard sci-fi up with it, transcending it but without letting it go.  In the last year I’ve been reading him alongside Proust, and I wouldn’t want to praise either writer at the cost of the other.  In person or over a beer, Watts is funny, generous to new writers, just an absolute delight.  What a pathetic sign of the times that this wonderful artist is subjected to such harassment.

DAVID Ker THOMSON lives in the Great Lakes watershed.  dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

 

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